The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks it's a bad idea for Google to combine my Web History (searches and sites visited) with information about my YouTube preferences. "…(S)earch data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more," the EFF notes ominously. How this is made worse by combining such facts with my YouTube activity is left to the imagination. You can read the EFF's analysis for yourself.
Limiting The Data That Google Collects About You
Anyone who doesn't want Google to collect data about him or her has a simple remedy: don't sign in to your Google Account. Google Search, YouTube, and some other Google services don't require you to have a Google Account. If you have to use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, or another Google service that requires a sign-in, you can always sign out when you're finished. But really, who wants to remember to do that all the time?
Many sources are recommending that users disable and erase their Web History. But that really won't do much to protect your privacy. The Web History tool is simply your window into your own Web History. If you turn off that feature and delete your web history, you're only preventing yourself from seeing the data. Google will continue to log and have access to that data. Don't believe me? Here's a quote from Google's Privacy FAQ for Web History: "If you remove items, they will be removed from the service and will not be used to improve your search experience. As is common practice in the industry, Google also maintains a separate logs system for auditing purposes and to help us improve the quality of our services for users."
This doesn't spell out exactly what data they will store about your searches, but I do know that both Google and Microsoft anonymize search data after 18-24 months by removing the IP addresses, cookies and other identifiers from search terms. To the best of my knowledge, there is no way to completely opt out of logging when you use a search engine, unless you use an anonymizer when surfing. Here are some related links you may find helpful:
- Search Privacy
- I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me
- Does IP Address Reveal my Physical Location?
The Bottom Line? It's the Bottom Line!
I use Google's search engine, Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs. I also use Youtube, Google Alerts, Google+, Picasa, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Images, Google Wallet, Translate, the Chrome Browser, an Android phone, and various webmaster tools. I love them all, and would miss them if they disappeared. You might use Blogger, Google Groups, or Google Voice. Other popular services that Google provides for free include Google Books, Google News, Google Music, Panoramio, Latitude and SketchUp.
And no, I don't think that's a naive position. You might think that Google would profit by selling such data, but they also have a lot to lose, if they were found to be doing such a thing. In an information economy and a world of fast-moving news, the loss of goodwill (and the inevitable flood of lawsuits) would do enormous damage to Google's business. So they actually have an incentive to abide by their "Don't Be Evil" mantra when it comes to your online privacy.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 27 Feb 2012
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